Dec 01

UPDATE Feb.12: A New Secret Weapon? A Sneak Peek at the Marquette Backcountry Ski

by Brian Mohr

David Olilla, who calls the playful mountains of Michgan’s Upper Peninsula home, is onto something revolutionary. He’s now producing a ski that many of us here in the northeast have been dreaming about for years. It thrives in thin-cover/ice-free conditions common in the very early or very late season, and in many ways, is the ultimate rock ski. It also does many other things well.

The Marquette Backcountry Ski is short, fat, without metal edges, has a waxless base (no need for kick wax or skins when climbing low-medium angle terrain)… and it’s affordable! The ski features a raised and highly functional tip, inserts for basic 3-pin telemark bindings (although any binding can be mounted) and a stiff flex capable of handling high speeds and aggressive manuevers. A must-have ski for the quiver, it also has great potential to make the adventure of skiing accessible to so many who have been turned off by the costs and challenges associated with the modern, mainstream approach to skiing.

Since November 2010, we’ve been testing this ski in the variety of conditions common to Vermont’s Green Mountains. From frost-coated grass and moss to thigh-deep powder to peel-away corn, the Marquette Backcountry Ski, has performed beyond all expectations. And while it promises to be a great tool for learning to ski off-piste and for exploratory off-piste adventures above town or out the back door, it has already proven itself as an incredibly high-performing quiver ski for advanced skiers, too – a ski that thrives in relatively ice-free, technical and thin-cover conditions on moderately pitched to steep terrain.

The pluses: They are incredibly easy to ski, turn and manuever. Their big tip keeps you out of trouble. They are virtually indestructable, and b/c they lack metal edges, they are less prone to grabbing and throwing you out of rhythm when you encounter an occasional rock, stick or frozen lump of soil. They are also quite stiff, and have just a bit of sidecut and camber, and when you feel like opening the throttle, these skis can handle speed surprisingly well. When climbing, too, and the scales aren’t offering the traction you need, side-stepping and herring-boning up hill to overcome steeper sections of your climb is a breeze, due to their short length. (Along these lines, our most common approach to climbing with the Marquettes involves strapping our skis to our packs and hiking the mountain, b/c when the snowpack is thin, post-holing is a non-issue and hiking various up-routes is a nice change of pace from the usual skin track.)

The minuses: They don’t glide like a ski with a ptex base, and thus they are quite slow in low-medium angle terrain, unless the snow condition is especially fast. (However, waxing them up with glide wax does help a little, as does silicon spray. We have also belt-sanded the scales off a pair to improve glide and waxability. (We have outfitted those skis with fat skins for climbing by stitching two short lengths of old-school skinny skins together side by side.) They have no metal edges, so they offer little control on very hard pack snow, frozen turf and of course, ice.

The skis are now retailing for under $200 and shipping from Michigan, USA, where they are made in a factory that also produces snowmobile skis. Hmmm… See, snowmobilers are our friends, after all. You can place an order through the Marquette Backcountry Ski website directly, or acquire them through your favorite local northeast skiing retailer (after encouraging them to order some up!)

Check out some of the video footage we captured below, featuring the Marquette skis in action here in Vermont. Don’t miss the grass skiing at approx. 2:05 in the last video below. You can see more photos of the Marquettes in action below, and here, here, here, too.

The Marquettes in their element…

Be sure to catch the grass skiing action, too, starting at 2:05…

And this backyard classic, parts of which feature the Marquettes…

The Zero Approach Ski Tour from AdventureSkier on Vimeo.

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  1. Tony Amenta

    Looks like these ripped up Lower Antelope.

    How are they at ascending up the hill?

  2. Dave

    sweet. When my Alpinas need replacing…

  3. russ

    How do they handle w/o metal edges? What are they like in variable conditions or hard pack? I have a pair of short fat powder skis that are 15 cm shorter than what I usually ski. While they are great in some conditions, I find that being so short I have to really be in the back seat while sking deep pow. I’m wondering if these would be like that. Would these skis be suitable for someone new to skiing? I was looking for some Kahru swiffers to intro a non-skier into BC sliding but these look interesting as well. How well do they climb? Comparable to some double cambre waxless BC skis?

    1. AdventureSkier.com

      Missed your comment earlier Russ… W/o metal edges, you;ll want to stick to soft snow surfaces… Be careful when you encounter firm snow or ice, as they don’t really edge at all on the firm stuff. As a shorter ski, they require some adjustments to your balance when skiing these, especially at faster speeds. Still, they are probably easier to ski through powder snow, in the tight woods, so long as there is some good pitch, than anything else out there. Keep in mind that on low angle terrrain, they are quite slow in comparison to a regular ski with a ptex, waxable base. These are a far cry from the Karhu Swifters, and offer a much higher level of downhill skiing performance than the Swifters. The waxless base on the Marquettes climb quite well, about as well as any other waxless ski I’ve used.I’ve adapted some old, long, skinny skins to be used as custom fit climbing skins for the Marquettes, too (running two strips of the skins side by side, for full ski-width coverage), which I use when approaching steeper terrain more directly. I hope this helps. Thanks for checking out AdventureSkier.

  4. Kip

    Shameless shop promo: 8 pairs coming to onion river sports by the end of this week!

  5. Rob

    I use a pair of Kahru Swiffers in the hills around my house they work great for making turns in the tight woods. Been thinking of trying these Marquettes wonder how they will compare?

    1. AdventureSkier.com

      Hi Rob-

      I missed your comment last winter… The Marquettes will slide quite a bit more, and they are bigger all around…and much more suitable for downhill performance than the Karhus. Also, you’ll need either a telemark or AT boot/binding combo with the Marquettes… I hope this helps. Have fun out there!

  6. Rex

    Received my set from ORS two days ago. Mounted 3pins within minutes with the provided screws. Hit the first hill I saw on my way to work.
    Early rise tips allow for a very nice stride, with a little glide wax, you get some good glide in most situations.
    They don’t climb like ski/skin combos, but i wasn’t interested in climbing straight up. Found a pitch and was able to link tele-turns thru some really deep fluff. Turns were slow but accurate and most of all fun! Although all vids shows folks linking parallel turns, I was indeed able to tele. Just had to slow things down and let the turns come – very comfortable. Skis performed well and were even comfortable to glide on packed snowmobile track. These things are going to be fun!

  7. martin cooperman

    I hesitate to ask you this as I have only modest experience on x/c skis and perhaps 1/10th of your abilities, based on what I saw in the video. Mostly I plod along with simple skis, day touring bindings and inexpensive boots.
    But I would like to be able to handle some of the modest downhills through the woods of Ohio. These are gentle downhills on hiking trails or adjacent, that have me desperately snowplowing or falling to avoid running into a tree.
    I’d also like to use skis for backpacking in western PA, with similar trails.
    I’m a pretty good outdoorsman, well exercised and in love with winter, but I find myself using snowshoes rather than x/c skis because I just can’t ski confidently on even the modest downhill parts.
    I’ve tried some Karhu Catamounts 160cm, and while they are easier to use than my 210cm skis, I still don’t do that well.
    So, are the Marquette backcountry skis so much better for this that they’re worth getting, or am I really lacking in boots, bindings and, most importantly, in technique?
    What level boots and what kind of bindings would work for modest, slow, under-control gentle downhill hiking trails in the woods (I’m not trying to emulate you in your video)?
    Any other suggestions?
    Marty Cooperman
    Cleveland, Ohio

    1. AdventureSkier.com

      Hi Martin-

      The Marquettes are a great ski for developing your skiing skills in soft snow conditions, so long as you shy away from ice and real hardpack with them (as they have no edges). Based on your background, I think you would do great on them. For better downhill control, a 2-buckle telemark boot like the Garmont Excursion should work really well for you. It’s a great boot that you can loosen up for maximum flexibility and comfort while climbing, and then buckle up (with a power strap, too) for plenty of downhill control in mixed snow conditions. If you are hoping to climb anything beyond a gentle pitch, or where setting a low-angle uptrack is not an option (e.g. narrow, fall line trails), then you might want to rig some climbing skins on the Marquettes, too. I hope this helps. Take care Marty. -Brian

  8. Aaron

    Now, the secret is OUT! They look like the perfect outlet for those early days.


  9. jack

    Will Rossignol BC-X11’s and 3 pins work with these? I use system bindings and Alpina trackers,but,have been intrested in picking a pair of these up. Would they be not enough for a 7-10 mile tour in for turns and tour back out? or a second back up to a differet ski?

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